The Washington Examiner ran this article today about the D.C. Council being "poised to roll back the tax rate on vacant property that it doubled only six months ago." As you may recall, "The District’s Class 3 nuisance property tax rate was raised from $5 to $10 per $100 of assessed value as part of the fiscal 2009 budget and applied to 3,609 parcels citywide. The goal of the tax increase, implemented in October, was to spur the rehabilitation of 'unimproved or abandoned' real estate."
Ward Two Councilmember Evans is apparently one of the councilmembers against the tax. The Examiner reports that Evans believes "The Class 3 rate has never been effective and should be abolished, said Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, finance and revenue chairman. Fines and liens are better ways to tackle nuisance properties." Evans stated “We can’t point to one house that was fixed up as a result of this approach."
I am a big proponent of the Class 3 tax rate on vacant properties and on the recent increase in the same. In particular, I think the Class 3 tax dis-incentivizes holding onto vacant property for speculative investment's sake and gives owners an incentive either to sell or to put their properties to good use (surely, e.g., Shiloh's membership is opposed to so much of their money going to holding costs for the church's extensive vacant property portfolio in Shaw and will someday demand change). I also do not think six months is a sufficient test period for determining whether the recent tax increase is working, and think the council should wait at least another year to study its impact further.
Fines and liens are not enough to address the problem. It seems fines are generally the result of neighbor complaints about a particular property. Neighbors already bear enough of the onos of vacant properties by living next to them (e.g., dealing with trespassing vagrants, graffiti, and trash); they should not also have to be watchdogs for the city to keep irresponsible owners in check.
Responsive to Mr. Evans's claim, I think I can cite several previously vacant properties (all in the 1500 block of 8th Street) that have changed hands recently and are under rehabilitation currently -- most likely a direct result of the tax and/or tax increase. It would be great to compile a list of previously vacant properties that have been sold recently and are now under renovation/soon to be under renovation as a result of the vacant property tax to present the council. Please feel free to email me any such properties you know of (slumhistorique at yahoo dot com) or leave addresses of such properties in the comments.